Review of ‘The Song of the Severn’ by George Hall

BBC Music Magazine – Vocal Disc of the Month

‘The Spirit of the Cotswolds’

Ian Venables deserves, and receives, fine performances says George Hall

The music of Ian Venables is extraordinary. He writes in a style that ceased to be the lingua franca of English music before he was born, and there is no evidence in his language of the impact of Britten or Tippett, let alone anyone more recent. There will certainly be those who will write him off merely on these grounds. Yet that is surely unfair. His songs, which set poets like Ivor Gurney, John Masefield and John Drink water, as well as English classic authors, never feels like pastiche, or like copies-however good; they feel like the real thing. Not all of them are equally fine. The textures of the cycle, The Song of the Severn, scored for baritone string quartet and piano, are sometimes overloaded. The musical milieu of the Venice-inspired The Invitation to the Gondola feels-as more or less everything else here does-like the Cotswolds. But the best-settings of Hardy’s A Kiss, Tennyson’s Break break, break and Gurney’s Soft Rain-are superb. They find in Roderick Williams a deeply sympathetic interpreter, who lavishes as much attention on the words as the notes. Graham J Lloyd is the technically adroit, musically sensitive accompanist, while the Carducci string quartet-involved in several individual songs, as well as the above-mentioned cycle-are exemplary in their interpretations.